Early in the morning, exactly 80 years ago, the soldiers of the 3rd Romanian Army were awakened in their cold dugouts on the right bank of the Don River by the roar of artillery hitting their positions. By lunchtime, Commander Petre Dumitrescu reported to the leadership of Army Group South that it was impossible to prevent the enemy from crossing the river. A day later, his group was shredded by massive tank strikes. Two weeks later, it practically ceased to exist.
At that point, the Soviet troops of the Southwestern Front under the command of Nikolai Vatutin began their part of Operation Uranus, which resulted in the first major strategic defeat for the Axis countries – the beginning of the end. For the Allies, the Battle of Stalingrad would long stand as a symbol of military fortitude and Russian military genius.
What were the key mistakes of the German command? What revolutionary warfare methods did the Soviet generals employ during the Battle of Stalingrad? What non-obvious consequences did the disruption of the German offensive in southern Russia have?
A decisive November
The autumn of 1942 is considered the turning point in World War II. The seemingly relentless offensive of the Axis powers and their seizure of new territories and resources were finally put to an end in all theaters. By December, the strategic advantage had swung to the Allies. After this, only they would dictate the course of the war, and the Germans and the Japanese could only react.
Of course, the British would claim that the tide was turned in Egypt near El Alamein on October 24, when Bernard Montgomery managed to beat the Desert Fox Erwin Rommel and his African Corps, who were exhausted by a shortage of supplies. This put an end to German attempts to invade Egypt and block the Suez Canal, which would have significantly complicated the situation for England, since the island nation was extremely dependent on food and resources supplied by its colonies. Two weeks later, the British in North Africa were already supported by the Americans in the West, who were conducting Operation Torch – a large-scale troop landing in Morocco and Algeria, which were formally under the control of France’s pro-Hitler Vichy government. Despite Rommel’s stubborn resistance in Tunisia, the outcome of the campaign was a foregone conclusion.
However, the Americans themselves tend to believe that the outcome of the war in the fall of 1942 was decided not in North Africa, but on the opposite side of the world – on the island of Guadalcanal in the Pacific. The landmass was of great strategic importance, as control over it made it possible to secure commercial shipping between Australia and the United States and threaten the large Japanese naval base in Rabaul (New Britain). In August, US Marine Corps units landed on the island and immediately captured an important airbase, later called Henderson Field. Throughout the autumn, the Marines successfully defended this site with the support of aviation and the navy. The decisive battle was on November 13-14, when the Japanese lost their entire landing force, which was supposed to support the garrison of Guadalcanal, as well as several large ships, including the battleships Hiei and Kirishima. Japan’s expansion to the south was checked at the Solomon Islands and New Guinea, and it only lost previously captured territories after December of 1942.
But, in point of fact, neither Hitler nor Stalin had any doubts that the future of the world was being determined on the Volga steppes from November 19 to 24, when 270,000 Wehrmacht troops under the command of Friedrich Paulus were forced into a cauldron by a heavy blow from the Southwestern and Stalingrad fronts. The subsequent failure to unblock the encircled units doomed the Blau plan and killed any hopes Berlin had for a successful outcome to the war.
Blue is the color of (Hitler’s) sadness
The German General Staff called the plan of action on the eastern front ‘Fall Blau’, or Blue. The main goal of the campaign in the summer of 1942 was initially to capture the oil fields of Maikop and Grozny. The fuel reserves stored in Germany before the war were coming to an end, and synthetic fuel and Romanian oil from Ploiesti were not enough to service all of the Wehrmacht’s tanks and Luftwaffe’s planes. Therefore, the offensive in the Caucasus was considered a priority. Stalingrad was a secondary goal, and storming the city was not envisaged. It would be enough to pummel it with constant artillery fire, as was the case with Leningrad. However, at first things went so well for the Germans that capturing the industrial and transport center on the Volga began to look like an easy and even natural task. This deceptively low-hanging fruit eventually buried the Third Reich.
The Red Army’s failures in the spring and summer were primarily due to Stalin’s and the Soviet High Command’s mistakes in assessing the enemy’s plans. The fact is that the invasion of the USSR was initially dictated by the need to seize the resources of Ukraine and the North Caucasus. It was the seizure of the Lebensraum im Osten – the living space in the East – that Hitler and Rosenberg first thought about when authorizing the Barbarossa plan. This was also anticipated by Stalin, who concentrated his main forces in the west of Ukraine in 1941. Due to the suddenness of the attack and catastrophic errors in management, these troops were destroyed in the Battle of the Border and later near Odessa and Kiev.
The Tribulation is commencing…
Please repent, carry your cross daily and accept the free gift of Jesus Christ’s Death on the Cross for payment for your sins.
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